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Examples of Product Liability Cases – Bottles and Containers

Examples of Product Liability Cases – Bottles and Containers

When you shake a bottle of soda or other carbonated beverage, then remove the cap, it’s not a surprise when the beverage explodes. It’s those unexpected bottle explosions, though, that can catch us by surprise and lead to an injury.

Bottle and container product liability cases involving a personal injury often come down to proving a product defect, a design defect, manufacturing defect or a defect in the instructions or warnings.  And the manufacturer, bottler, seller, and end-user can all play a role. And in many cases, bottles are stored between the time they leave the manufacturer until the time they’re opened and enjoyed by the consumer, making some cases difficult to prove.

Nevertheless, consumers should expect that the bottles and containers they use are manufactured properly, transported carefully, and stored safely until sale. So, when a bottle or container fails to meet these standards, and that failure leads to a personal injury, you will want your product liability lawyer to be familiar with the current state of the law for these matters.

In this article, we look at three bottle product liability cases to better understand how the Florida courts consider these personal injury cases.

Case of a Beer Bottle Exploding At A Restaurant – Reversed

Anheuser-Busch, Inc. v. Lenz 669 so.2d 271 (Fla. 5th Dist. Ct. January 1996)

Shirley Lenz was stocking the beer cooler at the restaurant where she worked when one bottle unexpectedly exploded, damaging her left eye. She filed a suit against the brewer, Anheuser-Busch, claiming that the bottle had been in their exclusive custody and control before it exploded.

Lenz also asked the jury to find the brewer negligent on the grounds of res ipsa loquitur, meaning that the very fact that the bottle exploded implies negligence.

Ultimately, the jury found comparative negligence with Anheuser-Busch 70% negligent and Lenz 30% negligent.

The brewer appealed the jury’s decision, claiming that the verdict was inconsistent with the ruling of a prior case that ruled over a similar scenario – North American Catamaran Racing Assoc., Inc. v. McCollister 480 So.2d 669 (Fla. 5th DCA 1985).

In the NACRA v. McCollister case, NACRA faced a wrongful death suit when a catamaran that they manufactured capsized. The jury initially found that the sailboard was not defective when it was sold but also ruled that NACRA’s negligence caused the drowning. NACRA appealed on the belief that both rulings were in conflict and that if no design defect was present when the boat was sold, then the manufacturer was not negligent. This case was ultimately reversed.

Anheuser-Busch argued that its case was a similar scenario to the NACRA case and, likewise, it should also be reversed. The court agreed and ultimately reversed and remanded the original ruling.

Product Liability Case of a Bottle Exploding In A Sandwich Shop Causing Damage to The Waitress’s Hand – Reversed

Groves v. Florida Coca-Cola Bottling Co. 40 So.2d 128 (Fla. Supreme Ct. Div. B April 1949)

Mary Groves worked as a waitress in a sandwich shop that sold Coca-Cola bottled by Florida Coca-Cola Bottling Co. A bottle exploded and injured her hand as she was moving it from its case in a rear room of the shop to a beverage cooler in the front of the shop.

Groves sued the bottling company, claiming that its negligence in bottling the cola caused her injuries. Despite her claim and injury, the court originally ruled in the bottling company’s favor because Mary couldn’t provide enough direct evidence to prove negligence.

She appealed the court’s decision. She acknowledged that, based on prior decisions by the court, a manufacturer of a bottled beverage could be held liable for injuries if a bottle explodes, even after the bottle leaves the manufacturer’s possession and even if the injured person is unable to provide any direct evidence of negligence.

Groves also acknowledged that negligence could only be attributed to the manufacturers if the victim were able to show that the exploding bottle was never placed in an extreme environment with unusual air pressure or temperatures after leaving the manufacturer’s possession.

Nevertheless, she maintained that, while the bottle was in her possession, it was properly handled. She showed that the cola containers had not been subjected to any atmospheric or temperature changes and that they had not been handled improperly by her or any of her coworkers.

As a result, she appealed based upon the rule of res ipsa loquitur – meaning that the explosion of the bottle itself implied negligence on the part of the manufacturer.

The court agreed, the judgment was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Case of Bottle Exploding in Grocery Store Causing Permanent Eye Damage

Steele v. Royal Crown Cola Bottling Co. 335 So.2d 586 (Fla. 3rd Dist. Ct. June 1976)

Clemistine Steele suffered an injury with permanent damage to her eye when a bottle of Royal Crown Cola exploded in her hand at the check-out counter of Neal’s Grocery. She sued Royal Crown, the bottler, and Neal Adam, owner of Neal’s Grocery, for negligence, alleging that the bottle of cola was unsafe for its intended purpose.

In this product liability lawsuit, Royal Crown motioned for a directed verdict – meaning they believed that no legally sufficient evidence existed that would give a jury cause to reach a different conclusion. The jury granted Royal Crown their request for a directed verdict but denied a similar request made by Neal Adams.

Steele argued that the court made an error in granting the verdict in favor of Royal Crown on the basis that no jury question was presented regarding a potential breach of implied warranty. Royal Crown, on the other hand, held that the ruling was correct because Steele was unable to prove that the bottle was mishandled. Royal Crown also stated that she could not bring an implied warranty lawsuit against them because she had no way to definitively prove that the bottle was mishandled while in transit between the manufacturer and the grocery store.

The plaintiff’s counsel made the case, and the court ultimately agreed that while the law does place the burden of proof on Steele to show the bottle was mishandled after it left the manufacturer, it does not require that she “eliminate each and every remote possibility of injury to the bottle up to the time of the explosion.”

The court found that the evidence supported a reasonable person would assume that negligence to some extent was related to the explosion of the bottle and the ruling was reversed.

Do You Have A Question? Call Alan Sackrin Today For a Free Case Evaluation

As a Board-Certified Civil Trial Expert for over 38 years, Alan Sackrin has extensive experience with product liability lawsuits. He offers a free initial consultation (over the phone or in-person) to answer your questions. When you’re ready to speak with an expert civil trial lawyer about your product liability case, call Alan at 945-458-8655.